PMQs: Cameron does not butter a single parsnip

Well I must say, there was some dazzling stuff at Prime Minister’s questions today. But for those who might have expected some light, rather than heat, to emerge; there was disappointment. The score was 5-5 in footballing terms. A dazzling draw.

Harriet Harman’s display of debating skill was particularly stunning today. Her point was very simple and powerful. 1.3 million jobs will be lost as a result of government budget cuts, says a report this morning.

David Cameron didn’t deny this estimate came out of the treasury or say that he would publish what Harman called these “hidden treasury documents”. He did make another point. So, I think Harman scored her 5 goals on this matter. 1.3 million is a devastating figure. This one will run and run.

Cameron sort of blind-sided the point by saying that the Office of Budget Responsibility forecast says employment will go up for every year of the current parliament. A strong point, but that is obviously net employment. 1.3million people losing their jobs is still devastating for the individuals and families concerned – even if, say, 1.4million people (perhaps not the same ones) are finding jobs, sometimes with a considerable period of worry between losing one and finding another.

Cameron scored his 5 goals, not for anything of substance, but for a dazzling display of debating pyrotechnics at the end of his Q&A with Harman. Re-stating that Labour have not offered one proposal for a cut, he brandished a copy of the departmental magazine from Harman’s old department of government. He said they spent £2.4million doing up the department including £72,000 each on two storey meeting pods known as “peace pods” which the magazine said give “21st century space of quality, air and light where we can relax and refuel in the natural ebb and flow”. Cameron then finished very strongly saying “they (Labour) have gone from peaceniks to peacepods and bankrupted the country in the process”.

As a piece of Commons theatrics it was stunning. Oh how they laughed. Oh how Harman mouthed repeatedly “rubbish”. But you could pull out a supposedly embarrassing element of spending for any government. Just take the insanity of “free schools” from this government. Yes, good theatrics. But I don’t think Cameron buttered a single parsnip with that display, albeit dazzling. In other words, if you’re unfamiliar with that obscure old fashioned term, he was not high on substance.

Nevertheless, in answer to a later question, the Prime Minister did deliver one good line. He was asked, again, about public sector job losses, and asked that Labour should engage in the deficit reduction process “instead of playing this pathetic game pretending that there wouldn’t have been cuts under Labour. There would have been. You announced them – you just didn’t tell anyone what they were”. He said that very emphatically. I thought it was his best line of the session.

Here is a miscellany of other things we learnt, or which happened, in this session:

  • The Conservatives (as part of the coalition) are now formally backing a reduction in prison places while Labour (judging by placed questions from their Kevin Brennan, Gordon Banks and George Howarth) want to keep building prisons. This situation reminds me of my favourite pub name (one in Reading, Berkshire): “The World Turned Upside Down”
  • Not one but two LibDem MPs asked questions! – Stephen Lloyd about language schools and Annette Brooke about having a children’s day.
  • Our first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, asked a question for the first time, on Afghanistan.
  • David Cameron paid effusive tribute to the late Peter Walker
  • I noticed today that the Liberal Democrat MPs all seem to congregate at one end (the lobby end) of the government benches. Safety in numbers.
  • David Cameron answered a question about Sheffield Forgemasters by talking about the Post Office. Eh?
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    This entry was posted in PMQs.


    • The OBR figure is 600,000 job losses in the piblic sector with 2 million private sector gains. Leaving employment 1.4 million higher. Good news.

      The comment you make about people losing their jobs indicates you do not understand how a modern economy operates. In a normal month the figures may be (as an example ) a net gain of 20,000 positions. This is a net figure and 80,000 could have lost their jobs but 100,000 gained jobs. It is flexible and fluid. This is normal.

    • Andrea Gill 30th Jun '10 - 8:09pm

      “David Cameron answered a question about Sheffield Forgemasters by talking about the Post Office. Eh?”

      Are you seriously expecting this question to be answered AGAIN? It has been answered time and time again, and no amount of dead-horse-flogging is going to change the government’s mind on this one.

      @Joe Otten “1.3 million is a lot bigger than the OBR figure. I’d like to see where it comes from.”

      The 1.3 million jobs lost is made up for with 2.5 million jobs created in the same time.

    • ROB SHEFFIELD 30th Jun '10 - 8:09pm

      “The OBR figure is 600,000 job losses in the public sector with 2 million private sector gains. Leaving employment 1.4 million higher. Good news.”

      I’d like some of what you have in your bong 🙂

      Even the FT believes the idea of the private sector rescuing us from net job LOSS over this parliament to be “heroically optimistic”. I think you need to go back to your A level economics textbooks.

    • Andrea Gill 30th Jun '10 - 8:34pm

      The one thing that did grate with me somewhat – though I understand why he did it – was Cameron praising the work of an MP’s father in encouraging sell-off of council housing. Considering the current problems and lack of affordable housing, and the need for more affordable rented housing – indeed, criticism of Labour for not doing more to do this – I’m not so sure that was a great move.

    • ROB SHEFFIELD 30th Jun '10 - 8:35pm

      “The 1.3 million jobs lost is made up for with 2.5 million jobs created in the same time.”

      Channel 4 news factcheck: just one source amongst many- perhaps the most damning being David Blanchflower in the Guardian. That paper wishing it had never endorsed you !

      Cathy Newman’s verdict
      David Cameron accurately quoted official figures in parliament, so he gets a green light from the factometer. But his claim that unemployment will fall every year requires a big leap of faith. He’ll only be able to meet that promise if the private sector roars ahead.If taxes and interest rates are kept low, that might happen, but it’s a big if. Research by the consultancy Oxford Economics just this month found that *2.3m private sector jobs* were dependent on state contracts in areas like IT, defence and hospitals. As public spending falls, those employees are in jeopardy.


      According to the ONS, the private sector employee count went up by just over 1.8 million between 1999 and 2008. That’s slightly fewer extra workers than the OBR expects – and over twice as long a timescale.

      Add to this the fact that the global economic conditions aren’t exactly rosy right now, and according to one leading economist, there’s not a “hope in hell” that it’s likely.

      “You’ve got to offset not just for a lot of public sector job losses but also private sector job losses,” said John Philpott, chief economist at the CIPD (who predicted earlier this month that up to 725,000 public sector jobs would have to go). “Against a backdrop where we’re going to be seeing hundreds of thousands of public servants losing their jobs, and hundreds of thousands of private sector workers who are dependent on the government for contracts, it’s clear there’s going to be a major challenge for the government if it’s going to meet its employment objectives,” he said.

    • Patrick Smith 30th Jun '10 - 8:46pm

      The `Coalition Government`s’ announcement via the Justice Secretary has admitted that between 60%-90% males at the end of a short prison sentence are re-offending that and this added crime is now costing the Economy over £20K each year, that equals the amount of sending a pupil to Eton College for each ex-offender/re-offender.

      It is not time to hold the Justice Secretary to his stated intent to substantially reduce numbers of young males serving relatively short prison sentences and now invest in community restorative justice alternatives to underline payback community work as local practical rehabilitation?

      Not enough has been done since the penal reformer John Howard in the 18C who travelled 42,000 miles across Europe to inspect the vileness of the prisons, when petty offenders men and women alike, were incarcerated in leg irons or left to languish on `prison hulks’ at sea. In 2010 there are almost 90,000 prisoners in the UK and the rate is increasing.

      Has the Justice Secretary at last turned a corner to focus on this long overdue humanitarian work and realised that all families are affected by the highest rate in the EU rate of ex- prisoner `recidivism ?

    • This one won’t “run and run”. What we’re getting at the moment is an awful lot of noise from people who seem to think that the job of the state is to employ people, whether those people then do anything useful or not. The state needs winding down. It’s taken on hundreds of thousands of people and given them powers and budgets to do things that, at best, don’t need doing and that an awful lot of the time are just a blasted nuisance for the rest of us.

      This one isn’t ‘running’ now.

    • Anthony Aloysius St 1st Jul '10 - 8:54am

      What we’re getting at the moment is an awful lot of noise from people who seem to think that the state should employ less people, whether those people do anything useful or not.

    • Andrea Gill 1st Jul '10 - 8:57am

      @Chris: “This one won’t “run and run”. What we’re getting at the moment is an awful lot of noise from people who seem to think that the job of the state is to employ people, whether those people then do anything useful or not. The state needs winding down. It’s taken on hundreds of thousands of people and given them powers and budgets to do things that, at best, don’t need doing and that an awful lot of the time are just a blasted nuisance for the rest of us.

      This one isn’t ‘running’ now.”

      I have to say I agree with the sentiment there, but would love to have seen more support at local level rather than a general ‘chop’.

    • Dominic Curran 1st Jul '10 - 9:26am


      “This one won’t “run and run”. What we’re getting at the moment is an awful lot of noise from people who seem to think that the job of the state is to employ people, whether those people then do anything useful or not.”

      When you’re looking at cuts of 20-30%, you can be damn sure that that will include people who do useful and valuable things. The Tories are using the recession to swing the axe according to their ideology, not economic literacy. The only good thing is that, afterwards, they’ll be so unpopular they’ll be out of power again for a generation. The only downside is that so will we (but then, we’re used to that).

    • Look at the previous story on this blog- the one about the immense and unnecessary bureaucracy small venues have to go through to have live music performances. It’s just one tiny example. The Labour government piled officialdom on top of every aspect of our lives. I’m utterly convinced that my local council could make cuts of 20-30% without there being any need whatsoever for anyone to notice, except in a good way. Quite frankly, I reckon they could get down to 20-30% of the current budget without losing anything worthwhile.

      Of course councils, and let’s face it they’re the big wasters, will cut services people actually want and keep the useless stuff. They’ve been doing that for years. Big holes in the road and don’t you dare ask them to empty the bins, but they can produce a small crowd of inspectors at the drop of a hat. In many ways we’ve already learned to do without council ‘services’.

    • Dominic Curran 1st Jul '10 - 9:51am


      Councils, especially those in London, have bene making efficiency savings under the Gershom prohgramme for years. There’s not a lot of fat left to skim off. Sure, there are plenty of civil servants and local governemnt officers who could be let go, but 1 in 5? Not a chance. And remember, you may not see the effect immediately, but soon you will, by which time it will be too late. For example, yes, you could save money by employing fewer safety inspectors on the railways (i assume that they are included your ‘small army’) and not notice the difference immediately, but once the trains start crashing then you’ll sit up.

      Have you ever worked in a school, care home, local council or government department? i suspect you wouldn’t be writing be above if you had and knew what you were talking about.

    • Dominic

      Can you explain to me why, where it used to take one teacher, five local housewives have to be hired to work as teaching assistants in every primary classroom now? Why the local council has to pay for a completely useless village PCSO to wind up teenagers, ensuring that they grow up feeling disillusioned and excluded from society? Why I have a huge local trading standards department which doesn’t take any sort of query from the public, but instead does what it wants about issues that are of no concern to me or anyone I know?

      Look, the rest of us can see what’s going on. Telling us that any cuts will mean we can’t have a fire service really really won’t wash.

    • Dominic Curran 1st Jul '10 - 10:47am

      Chris – are you sure you want to read LibDem voice? I think the Daily Mail might be a better site for you.
      Teaching Assistants do a valuable job – ask the teachers. There aren’t ‘five in every classroom’ and you know it. As for your village PCSO – i can’t deny that I would prefer actual police, and that we have taken a legislative approach to dealing with kids whereas i think a more old fashioned informal approach would be better. But bear in mind that PCSOs are a much smaller fraction of the total police force than 25% – we will be losing ‘real’ police witht hat level of cuts. And if you think there’s no connection to crime levels and police numbers, you’re quite mistaken. as for your trading standards dept – i don’t know. I suspect that if you think that there are five housewives in every primary school classroom then you probably are calling up your council to complain about utterly random, ill-informed nonsense.

    • Dominic – are you sure you want to read LibDem voice? You must be one of the ‘progressives’ Labour keeps on about.

      if you really believe that the public sector is providing value to justify the almost half of GDP that it spends, then I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    • Dominic Curran 1st Jul '10 - 11:07am

      chris – i am a progressive, that’s why i’m in the libdems! what’s your excuse?

      you’re mixing up inefficiency and waste in the public sector – which we can all agree happens – with an acceptance, it seems, that cuts of 25% in almost every department can be done by getting rid of ‘waste’ – what cleggy called ‘paperclips and pot plants’ during the election – ie. pointless public sector jobs that produce nothing. what i’m saying is that at that level, it will mean real jobs at the frontline. there may be many ‘non-jobs’ out there, but not 1 in 4, or even, i’d say, 1 in 6. that scale of cuts, unheard of in history, is going to affect your life, from less help to the elderly and vulnerable to slower planning application processing to fewer police and possibly even more baby Ps as social workers’ caseloads increase due to there being fewer of them about.

    • Philinlancs 1st Jul '10 - 11:14am

      “Can you explain to me why, where it used to take one teacher, five local housewives have to be hired to work as teaching assistants in every primary classroom now?”

      Speaking as a parent of a child with a full “SEN Statement” I read your comment regarding the above and have to say that I find such comments not only offensive but particularly worrying.
      Children with any level of Special Educational Needs should be given every opportunity to be included at all levels of society.

      My son attends the local Primary School and has access to a shared to a Teaching Assistant each day. The two children require help and support in all tasks (yes, even going to the toilet). I would not go as far to say the lady concerned is an “Angel” but it would come pretty close to how we as parents feel about the dedication she shows on a daily basis for crap wages.

      All Teaching Assistants are employed to support the classroom teacher (to concentrate on teaching the rest of the children in the class).

      “Look, the rest of us can see what’s going on.”

      Maybe you think that children with Special Needs have no rights in society or you are just plain ignorant. You obviously do not have the insight to comment on such matters and demonstrate this by talking out of your arse.Or perhaps you are from the extreme right of the Nasty Party. If you are not the latter I suggest you may feel more at home in such company. Sorry, I forget, since the Coalition agreement, you are in that company!

    • Andrew Stephens 1st Jul '10 - 1:35pm


      I’m proud to say my wife performs the sort of task you describe. 1:1 support for an autistic child that would otherwise be in an special needs school. Or in a very vulnerable state in a mainstream school.

      Incidentally – my son does attend a special needs school. Unfortunately he will unlikely ever be able to attend mainstream school – and even his class has 2/3 classroom assistants at most.

      I really worry about the general level of ignorance shown in this area by people like Chris. It makes reducing the provisions for our children so much easier. I mean worry as in genuine fear – not an abstract concern.

      I only hope that Cameron remembers his own personal situation and realises this is something that will generate a visceral response from those affected

      (we’re notinlancs by the way – but I may pass your message on all the same 🙂

    • Andrew Stephens 1st Jul '10 - 1:37pm

      “There have been more than enough reports of the police harassing photographers on this site to demonstrate that.”

      The fact that these events are reported suggests they are unusual and therefore untypical, no ?

    • Dominic Curran 1st Jul '10 - 5:59pm

      Joe – where can i access the data supporting your post? it would be very interesting to see predicted GDP share of public spending, and whether that includes the shares held in the banks.


    • Philinlancs 1st Jul '10 - 6:43pm

      @Andrew Stephens
      I am very happy to hear that your wife has chosen to work with some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is not an easy option at all to choose to work with these children as the work can prove extremely challenging and thus mentally and physically draining. As you also mention that your son attends a special school both your wife and yourself will be aware of the mountain of paperwork required to receive even the most basic provision for children with special needs. You will also be in receipt of DLA which again is another mountain of red tape which needs renewing every so often. Bloody frustrating would not even start to describe the procedures involved. The proposed cuts can only make the situation worse and I too worry a great deal about the ignorance and total lack of empathy for the most vulnerable.

      If Chris feels that he has provoked an “visceral” response from me he should also bear in mind that we (as parents of children with special needs) face such ignorance on a daily basis.

    • Anthony Aloysius St 2nd Jul '10 - 12:12am

      “Any household knows that it can have a great time on borrowed money.”

      But a nation-state really isn’t the same as a household.

      The obvious difference is that if the economy is stimulated, revenues rise and expenditure on benefits falls, and the deficit is therefore reduced. So it would be bad to go to an extreme and cut public spending so harshly that you choke off economic growth. Some sort of balance is needed, and it’s a matter of judgment as to where exactly the balance is to be struck.

      That’s why I’m sceptical when people say “This _must_ be done”, “There is _no_ alternative”, and so on. Especially when they were saying only a month or two ago that it would really be better not to do it now, but to put off doing it for a while.

    • Dominic Curran 2nd Jul '10 - 12:57pm

      thanks for the link, joe. most illuminating.

    • @Liberal Neil

      It would be so marvelous if the government would get rid of every single PCSO. There is no justification whatsoever for any of them being in their jobs at all.

    • t fearon – you hit the nail so beautifully on the head. Get rid of PCSOs and there’s no one to answer the pathetic calls of livid busybodies who’ve seen a sixeen year old with a can of lager. There’s no one to teach our young people that the state supports those who automatically hate them.

      PCSOs have done so much damage. We must get rid of them.

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